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COLLEGE FOOTBALL

Trojans can't game the system

November 05, 2008|BILL PLASCHKE

Once upon a whine, another traditional powerhouse college football team got jobbed.

Four autumns ago, another great college football team was denied a chance to play for a national title because it was a lousy year for its conference.

Auburn, undefeated and unrecognized in 2004, could not complain because it was surrounded by a bad SEC.

USC, overpowering and anonymous in 2008, cannot complain for the same reason.

The Pac-10 reeks. USC is tarnished by the stench. The Trojans could be unbeaten and they still might not be among the top two teams in the country.

As it is, they are a one-loss afterthought, no longer part of the national discussion, playing out their weak schedule with a forced smile, waiting for their bowl assignment like a yawning man waits for the bus.

They are BCS busted. And their usually measured coach, for the first time in his eight-year career here, is publicly fuming about it.

"I think it stinks," Pete Carroll said at his news conference Tuesday.

I don't think it stinks. I think it works. What has happened to USC is fair, and even appropriate.

If the Trojans can run over Auburn to the national championship game in 2004 because they won a terrific Pac-10 that featured quarterbacks such as Aaron Rodgers and Trent Edwards and Derek Anderson . . . then they can be denied during a season in which the Pac-10 has been unable to scale the Mountain West and been mostly WAC'd out.

Yes, they beat Washington by 56 points and dropped two spots in the BCS standings, but are the Huskies really any better than Louisiana Monroe and the Citadel, two teams that Auburn beat in 2004?

In the BCS, you are judged by the company you keep, and here are some of USC's buds:

Cal, loser to Maryland. Arizona, loser to New Mexico.

Oregon, beaten by Boise State. Oregon State, beaten by Penn State and Utah.

Washington and Washington State, crushed by darn near everybody.

The conference has but one great team, and USC would probably be favored over any other college team right now, and has outscored its last five opponents, 214-20.

But it doesn't matter. Nor should it.

Those who long for a college football playoff system need to understand, thanks to the BCS, there already is one. It's called the regular season.

Two years ago, the Trojans lost in the national semifinals to UCLA. Last season, they lost in the fifth round to Stanford.

This season, the Trojans lost in the third round to Oregon State, and even if they continue to breeze through the loser's bracket, it's too late to turn them into champions.

You want college football to adopt March Madness? It already has three delightful months of it -- every game counts, every play counts, the most important regular season in sports.

In this tournament, nobody has felt the toe of the glass slipper more than the Trojans, and whose fault is that?

"The really interesting thing is, who is making these decisions. . . . We don't even know who this is," Carroll said. "It's kind of like the Wizard of Oz. Somebody behind that screen there, but we don't know who it is."

Here's who makes the decisions. It's those USC players who decided to not show up against Oregon State. It's that USC coaching staff that couldn't figure out how to beat former Trojan Mike Riley.

In the past, Carroll has publicly treated the BCS like a crazy uncle, simply shaking his head and clucking his tongue and changing the subject.

That he is now publicly scolding it shows the frustration of a defensive coach who has the best defense in the country and nowhere to show it off.

It's sincere and well-intended. It's also too late.

Even those longtime BCS critics like myself have to finally admit that the imperfect system has perfectly transformed the sport from a Saturday afternoon cookout to a national obsession.

The TV ratings and accompanying buzz have pushed it to the No. 2 spot in the national landscape behind the NFL.

The lack of a playoff system has pushed everyone's attention to the brink, with games like last Saturday's Texas-Texas Tech duel drawing double the viewers of any other show on a usually slow Saturday night.

The rich bowl system keeps the presidents happy. The weekly drama keeps the TV executives happy. And more than his basketball brethren whose entire season happens over three weekends in March, the college football player learns the importance of consistency and accountability.

Carroll's biggest complaint is that the BCS system rewards the team that plays the best over the entire season, not the team playing the best at the end of the season.

"I think there's a difference there," he said.

Indeed, USC has been among the country's top two teams at the end of virtually every season since 2002. That the Trojans have only two national titles is a reminder of Carroll's own celebrated words, that to succeed in life one must "always compete."

Not only in November. And that's no BCS.

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bill.plaschke@latimes.com

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